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THM/302 - Collection of Osiris Players and Nancy Hewins materials
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Collection of Osiris Players and Nancy Hewins materials

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This material is held at V&A Department of Theatre and Performance
Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302
Dates of Creation 1920s - 1980s
Name of Creator Nancy Hewins, Barbara Baker and the estate of Nancy Hewins.
Language of Material English
Physical Description 54 folders and 2 volumes

Scope and Content

The collection consists of materials relating to the work of the Osiris Players all-female touring company (including promotional, production, legal and administrative, touring, and performer-related materials and ephemera, c.1920s-1970s), the life and professional career of its leader Nancy Hewins (including photographs, correspondence and collected personal ephemera, c.1920s-1970s) and research materials collected for a dissertation on the Osiris Players by Barbara Baker, a former Osiris performer (including correspondence with other former Osiris performers, personal materials from her time touring with Osiris and a copy of the finished dissertation, c.1920s-1980s).

Administrative / Biographical History

The Osiris Players (or the Osiris Repertory Company as they were also known) were Britain's first all-female professional theatre company who operated with the aim of introducing theatre - particularly the works of Shakespeare - to schools and audiences at improvised venues nationwide who may not otherwise have had access to live theatre at accessible prices. Started in 1924 by Nancy Hewins, they specialised in regional touring and were active until 1963.

Born in 1902 in London, (Margaret) Nancy Hewins developed an interest in the theatre - lighting and set design in particular - whilst studying at Oxford University. After graduating she started an amateur theatre company called the Isis Players in 1924. Becoming a professional company in 1927, they changed their name to the Osiris Players, with their first production as a professional outfit being The Merchant of Venice.

Osiris survived on proceeds from ticket sales and was never publicly funded. Hewins would supplement early Osiris funds by working as a lighting designer and director, particularly in large-scale pageants.

As a rule they were always all-female, and never had more than seven members in the troupe. As a travelling company members were expected to take care of necessary domestic duties (washing, cooking) as well as the dramatic (acting, props, make-up) and were paid a weekly allowance. The company would travel in two Rolls-Roycecars, getting through seven in the company's lifetime as Nancy Hewins maintained that they were the only cars suitable. They would improvise sleeping arrangements, often bedding down in school halls or barns to save on costs. Few members lasted more than a few years. During World War II, Osiris put on 1,534 (mostly Shakespeare) plays, often travelling with a horse and dray due to petrol restrictions.

The Company was disbanded by former Osiris performer Wynne Griffiths after Hewins' death in1978.


This collection has been organised into the following series:

  • THM/302/1 - Osiris Players company materials
  • THM/302/2 - Nancy Hewins materials
  • THM/302/3 - Barbara Baker personal materials
  • THM/302/4 - Barbara Baker dissertation and essay
  • THM/302/5 - Barbara Baker dissertation materials

Conditions Governing Access

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here:

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here:

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with the collection management policy.

Acquisition Information

Gift of the estate of Nancy Hewins, 1996.

Custodial History

These materials were donated to the V&A Theatre and Performance department by the Estate of Nancy Hewins. It is not known who collected the materials, or whether the collection as a whole is an amalgam of the smaller collections of a number of former Osiris members. One tranche of the collection refers specifically to Barbara Baker (a former Osiris member 1948-1952) and her work and research towards an undergraduate dissertation on the Osiris Players.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. Material relating to the Osiris Players and Nancy Hewins may be found in several collections, including the biographical and productions files and the library collections. Specifically, a manuscript of Nancy Hewins' unpublished autobiography Well, Why Not? (PN 3168.G7) and an excerpt of the autobiography of former Osiris member Mary-Rose Benton, Family Values (PN 2598.B468) may both be found in the library collections.

Please ask for details.

Separated Material

The following play-text typescripts have been removed from this collection and have been added to our library collections:

  • An incomplete script of a version of Sophocles's Oedipus Tyrannus with a partial typewritten text, and part of Oedipus' lines with cues. Contains some alterations. Undated. (PLAYS SOP / Prompt).
  • An adapted scene from Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit, marked for the part of Osiris member Betsey Prig. Also includes p.9 of another unidentified play. Undated. (PLAYS DIC / Prompt).
  • Prompt-book of printed text of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, marked wth cuts, cues and a few directions. Include's Anthony's speech in manuscript and typed cast lists. Undated. (PLAYS SHA / Prompt).
  • Manuscript copy of Duel between wiskered Villain and handsome Hero, for no particular reason other than they just didn't like each others faces, by Margaret Rubel. Includes a fight plan and ends as a personal letter signed Maria which refers to the productions of the Osiris Players and members of the company. Undated. (PLAYS RUB / Prompt).


Theater -- Great Britain
Theatrical companies -- Great Britain

Personal Names

Hewins, Nancy. ( 1902–1978)

Corporate Names

Osiris Players

Cataloguing Info

Title Collection of Osiris Players and Nancy Hewins materials
Creation Created by Veronica Castro using the cheshire for archives ead creation tool 2012-12-06

Osiris Players company materials

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1
Dates of Creation 1920s-1970s
Physical Description 26 folders and 2 volumes

Scope and Content

This series contains materials relating to the running of the Osiris Players, including promotional materials, administration and legal correspondence, materials relating to touring logistics and to former Osiris Players performers. Also included are reviews for a production by the Isis Players.

Corporate Names

Osiris Repertory Company

Osiris Players Scrapbook

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/1
Dates of Creation 1927-1978
Physical Description 1 volume

Scope and Content

Scrapbook labelled on cover: Company Cuttings book - "Letters" (mostly Telegraph). Contents include:

  • National newspaper cuttings (many loose) containing reviews and feature cuttings on the Osiris Players. Many include images. Productions covered include The Inconstant (1927), A Midsummer Night's Dream, Tale of Two Cities (1939), The Rivals, Romeo and Juliet, Arms and the Man (1941), Badger's Green and St. Joan (1947).
  • Letters to the press written by Nancy Hewins, specifically a series between Hewins and the Daily Telegraph theatre critic W.A. Darlington on the subject of Shakespeare, dated 1971-1972.
  • Obituary notice for Nancy Hewins, dated 1978.
  • General articles on acting, the theatre and christianity, mixed dates.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

This is an oversize item.

Personal Names

Darlington, William Aubrey. ( 1890-1979)

Osiris Players promotional materials

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/2
Dates of Creation 1920s-1940s
Physical Description 8 folders

Scope and Content

These folders contain playbills, posters, newspaper features and articles cuttings, official promotional literature, advertisements and circulars.

Campden Festival of Plays playbill

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/2/1
Dates of Creation c. 1940s
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

One playbill for the Campden Festival of Plays, which saw a week of performances by the Osiris Players of the following plays: The Private Secretary, Saint Joan, It Pays to Advertise, Badger's Green, Quality Street, Richard II, Maria Marten and a selection of short modern plays. Undated.

Other Finding Aids

This is an oversize item.

Blank production posters

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/2/2
Dates of Creation c. 1940s
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

Includes a number of generic posters with blank space left to fill in appropriate venue and date details as and when known. Productions covered include: Blithe Spirit, The Chiltern Hundreds, Treasure Island, Maria Marten, Belinda, Badger's Green, Mr Pim Passes By and Arms and the Man.

Other Finding Aids

These materials are in an oversize folder.

Press features and articles

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/2/3
Dates of Creation c. 1940s
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

Osiris press cuttings (mostly photocopied) from national newspapers and periodicals. Most are undated, one is dated 1948.

Other Finding Aids

These materials are in an oversize folder.

Production flyers

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/2/4
Dates of Creation c. 1940s
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

Various promotional flyers for Osiris productions with price and production details. Many are annotated with cast, costume or prop notes. Productions covered include: The Merchant of Venice, The Old Ladies, The Passing of the Third Floor Back, Quality Street, Little Women, Dr Faustus, The Summoning of Everyman and Twelfth Night.

Official correspondence materials and promotional images

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/2/5
Dates of Creation c.1940s
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This folder contains the following:

  • One blank official company Christmas card, dated 1946.
  • One blank Osiris Players headed postcard, undated.
  • Picture postcards, showing performers in costume as the Queen in Richard II and Prince Hal and Falstaff in Henry V, undated.
  • Promotional image sheets showing various Osiris members in costume, including Nancy Hewins dressed as General Burgoyne in The Devil's Disciple.

Touring performance records

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/2/6
Dates of Creation c. 1920s-1940s
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

One printed list of all performances given by Osiris for the period between the outbreak of war in 1939 to 1942, with venue and performance details, labelled War Record. Also includes a map of Great Britain and Ireland marking regions visited from 1927 to 1947.

21st birthday celebration playbill

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/2/7
Dates of Creation 1949
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

One copy of the flyer for the Osiris 21st birthday celebration event held near Dover, Kent. An all-day event, the following plays were performed: Twelfth Night, Everyman, Macbeth, Captain Brassbound's Conversion and Badger's Green.

Osiris Players advertisements and circulars

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/2/8
Dates of Creation c. 1930s-1940s
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This folder contains the following:

  • General Osiris advertisements, detailing their ethos, methods and terms.
  • Circulars detailing Osiris services; theatrical productions, classes, talks, lecture-recitals and demonstrations.
  • Speculative letters detailing prospective performances and other services to general or specific targeted recipients.
  • A notebook titled 'Good Set Terms' containing original copies of letters and circulars, as well as an advertisement for an audition for a new troupe member. Some items within the notebook are dated 1937, otherwise largely undated.
  • Printed advertisement for the audition of a new member, with terms of employment, dated 1947.

Materials relating to the Isis Players

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/3
Dates of Creation c. 1927
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

National newspaper cuttings of reviews of an Isis production of The Inconstant at Birchington-on-Sea, Kent and Blackfriars Theatre, London. Also included is a newspaper advertisement for the entertainment bill at the Birchington venue. All dated 1927.

Also included is an address and contacts book, labelled 'The Isis Players' on the cover.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Isis Players was the amateur theatre company started by Nancy Hewins in 1924. In 1927 it was renamed the Osiris Players and became a professional company..

Materials relating to productions

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/4
Dates of Creation c. 1940s
Physical Description 3 folders

Scope and Content

These folders contain materials which relate to technical aspects of putting on a theatrical production (lighting and costume notes and sheet music) as well as performance reviews and testimonials from a range of audience members.

Technical notes

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/4/1
Dates of Creation c. 1940s
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This folder contains the following items:

  • One photocopy of a lighting plot for Sweeney Todd, dated 1948/9.
  • One photocopy of a stage properties list for Arms and the Man, undated.
  • One photocopied set of notes made by Hewins regarding some particulars of technical theatrical lighting. Annotated with the following by Barbara Baker: ‘Lighting information Sent to E.B. Openshaw ? in M.N.H’s illness? Dated 1951/2.

Sheet music

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/4/2
Dates of Creation c. 1940s
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

Two fragments of music manuscripts with lyrics, both undated.

Public testimonials and reviews

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/4/3
Dates of Creation 1928-1946
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

Handwritten and typed testimonials and reviews of Osiris productions. Many are written by schoolchildren, a small number are written by adults. Some have been collected and printed in pamphlet-form. Items dated 1928-1946.

Legal and administrative materials

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/5
Dates of Creation 1931-1973
Physical Description 7 folders and 1 volume

Scope and Content

These folders contain correspondence and related materials concerned with the legal and administrative running of the Osiris Players.

Takings ledger

Reference Number(s) GB 71 THM/302/1/5/1
Dates of Creation 1939-1940s
Physical Description 1 item

Scope and Content

Ledger labelled 'Osiris Repertory Company Takings 1939-1947'. Includes venue, date, production, and gross and net takings entires. Also includes entries for 1948 and 1949.